Hannah Cornelius of Springville always knew her only child, Deason, was going to be okay – even when the 3-year-old’s failing liver placed him at #1 on the National Transplant Registry.
Looking back, six months later, it all seems like a blur, she says. “He was a normal, healthy little boy when we realized that he looked jaundiced,” she recalls. “Actually, he was beginning to have all the signs of liver failure – his eyes were yellow, he had dark urine and light stools. We took him to Children’s of Alabama on October 18, 2013. By October 26, he was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and was a top priority for transplantation.”
Even as doctors worked to keep Deason alive and healthy enough for a transplant, they also were trying to determine the cause of his acute liver failure. The diagnosis? Hepatitis A, a viral infection that causes irritation and swelling of the liver. Hannah says she has no idea how her son could have contracted Hepatitis A.
Those days with Deason in PICU were difficult. “He had been so healthy, and now the doctors were talking liver transplant? But at the same time, my husband, Eddy, and I had strong faith and the support of family and friends,” Hannah remembers.
“As we waited, we prayed for the family of the child who would become our son’s donor – for their comfort during their time of pain and struggle. We knew Deason’s transplant would occur in God’s own time, and we were overwhelmed with joy when a liver was found.”
In a textbook surgery, Deason received his transplant on November 5. During the time since he had been hospitalized, Deason’s liver function had declined to less than 60 percent. “In my mind, it was the perfect time for his transplant,” Hannah says. “If he had had to wait any longer, other organs may have begun to fail.”
The change in Deason was almost immediate. When he was brought back to his room after surgery, his skin and eyes were no longer yellow. And after just 17 more days at Children’s, he was back at home – and craving Jack’s hamburgers and pancakes!
“There is a Jack’s in Springville, and Deason just got on a hamburger kick after his surgery,” Hannah explains. “When he came home, it was like he was addicted to Jack’s hamburgers and pancakes and that was all he would eat. He would say, ‘I’m hungry and I want Jack’s.’ Even now, they know us by name at the drive-through and will ask, ‘Would Deason like a hamburger?’”
Today, Hannah describes Deason as very energetic and fun loving. “He loves to fish and to play outside with his dog, Chip. When you ask what his favorite thing to do is, he replies: ‘Run!’ And literally, it is! He runs all the time!”
Although their visits to Children’s are now down to a once-a-month clinic checkup and bi-monthly lab work, the Cornelius family will never forget the time when Children’s became their second home.
“We are just blessed to have Children’s so close by – Deason calls it ‘my hospital,’” Hannah says. “He loves the entire transplant team – Doctors Stephen Gray, Devin Eckhoff and Janaina Nogueira and his Transplant Coordinator ‘Miss Robin’ Greer. I adore Robin, too – if we ever need anything or have a question, we know we can call or text her at any hour. And all the children love the Child Life Specialist ‘Miss Lori’ Currie – they will ask whether she is going to come down to play with them!
“They’ve all been wonderful,” she adds. “Each one takes the time to make us feel as if Deason is their only patient. There’s also a special bond with Dr. Gray, who calls Deason ‘dude.’ Deason used to say, ‘I’m not dude, I’m Deason.’ But now he’s the one calling everybody ‘dude!’”
Once again the mother of a healthy little “dude,” Hannah says her wish for her son is that he always appreciates the gift of life he has been given.
“I pray that Deason thanks God daily for a second chance at life,” she explains. “I hope he uses what he has been through as a testimony of God’s love and mercy – and that he will one day be able to promote donor awareness and the need and demand there is for people to become donors.
“I also hope he accomplishes his own dreams, whatever they may be.”